Family Ties

Posted January 21, 2004 at 6:19pm

Is Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) facing family pressure to endorse Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) over Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) in the presidential sweepstakes?

Kennedy has been privately musing to colleagues that he’s in a bit of a bind now that his close friend, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), has dropped out of the presidential race.

The Congressman has confided that he’s tempted to throw his endorsement to Edwards because he’s been drawn to the Southerner’s positive message and believes that states below the Mason-Dixon line will be pivotal to taking back the White House.

But Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is perhaps Kerry’s most vocal supporter, has leaned ever so gently on his son to hop aboard with his fellow New Englander. Sen. Kennedy’s office declined to comment on family discussions.

Eager to lock down another Kennedy, Kerry quickly reached out to the Congressman right after his victory in the Iowa caucuses. Young Kennedy returned the call on Wednesday to offer his congratulations to Kerry, though the duo has not yet connected.

Sean Richardson, the Congressman’s chief of staff, allowed that “we have had conversations” about which way to go. But he stressed that the boss is “very impressed with all of the candidates” still in the race.

“There are no plans right now to endorse anyone,” he added.

And with the Carolina Panthers set to square off with the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1, Richardson noted that Kennedy is not jumping aboard the Edwards bandwagon.

“With all due respect to Senator Edwards, Congressman Kennedy could not even consider endorsing a candidate from Carolina before the Patriots take care of business in the Super Bowl,” he joked.

Keep Hope Alive. While pundits are still trying to read the tea leaves from the Iowa caucuses, freshman Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) thinks he knows what it means for the Senate colleagues of Kerry and Edwards.

Coleman noted that over the past year, he and his colleagues have been reading a barrage of media stories and academic studies about how Senators make atrocious presidential candidates. In the previous century, only Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy were elected directly from the Senate to the White House.

But then Kerry finished first in Iowa and Edwards placed second — besting a former governor and two current House Members.

“It tells you that being in the U.S. Senate may not be such a bad thing if you want to be president,” Coleman declared.

Before HOH could spit out the follow-up question, Coleman said with a smile, “No, no, I’m not thinking about it.”

Family Friendly? With children of lawmakers supposedly banned from sitting on the House floor during President Bush’s State of the Union address because of security issues, some Republicans were grumbling that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) brought his daughter anyway.

“Any responsibility I’m fully accepting myself,” Jackson said Wednesday in a telephone interview. But, the lawmaker explained, he just couldn’t say no to his very own Cinderella.

Jessica Jackson, who will turn 4 in March, had recently asked her dad for an introduction to “President George Bush,” and he quickly offered to bring her to the speech. She spent four hours getting her hair done and had her mom buy a special dress.

“Jessica is somewhere between Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty,” said Jackson, who arrived on the House floor at 9 a.m. to scope his usual seat on the aisle to get his mug on television along with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and some of the other regulars.

Two hours later, a directive came down from a designee of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), reminding everyone that kids were not allowed. Jackson rushed over to the office of House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood to plead his case. “I’ve essentially told Cinderella that she is going to meet President Bush,” he explained.

There was still some skepticism. So Jackson headed up to see Hastert, who was in the Speaker’s chair, before the speech began.

“He said, ‘I tell you what, I’m going to look the other way,’” Jackson recalled. “I don’t want to get Speaker Hastert in trouble. I just had an expectations issue — she was going to get to meet President Bush even if her father lost his seat in Congress.”

Bush eventually embraced the little girl, and she was smitten. “I think she thinks he’s Prince Charming,” said the liberal lawmaker. “She was clapping for tax breaks. I told my colleagues, ‘I think she’s a conservative.’”

No Pain, No Gainer. With security raised to seemingly unprecedented levels on Tuesday to prepare for that evening’s State of the Union address, Capitol Police officers were on edge when an alarm went off outside the Capitol in the afternoon.

But the concern quickly dissipated when officers spotted the source of the commotion: Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer was having trouble getting his cruiser started, so it set off the car alarm.

“Cruiser One had operator malfunction,” Gainer quipped later in the day.

Gainer, who attributed the problem to cold weather, got the car started on the fourth try — without any backup from his troops.

“I think they were happy I fixed it myself without any assistance,” he said.

Lott on Leave. No one should read anything into Sen. Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) absence from Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by Bush, who kicked Lott while he was down in December 2002 and helped lead to his ouster as Republican leader.

Lott was actually away with Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who as President Pro Tem of the chamber is in the line of succession for the presidency, in a secure location as part of the new and slowly developing continuity of Congress plans.

“I was [one of] the designated people in the undisclosed location,” Lott told HOH on Wednesday.

While he wouldn’t disclose which undisclosed site it was, Lott did note that it was the same secure location where he and other Congressional leaders ended up on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, and Tuesday marked his first trip back to the spot. Apparently the renovations have gone well.

“I was there 9/11; it’s certainly improved since then,” he added when asked if the location had been spruced up. “Oh yeah, much more.”

Lott and Stevens were at a different location than was Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and a couple of House Republican and Democratic leaders. The designee from the Bush administration, Commerce Secretary Don Evans, was in a third location away from the Congressional leaders.

Take a Stand. Bush’s big speech, of course, featured the inevitable comic gamesmanship between Democrats and Republicans over whether to stand or sit on your hands during various points in the address.

But former Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie took this game to a divine new level as he sat on the House floor right next to Sen. Paul Sarbanes (Md.) for the speech.

Ogilvie cheered wildly for Bush throughout, and stood on many occasions — especially when Bush bellowed out his sound bite on gay marriage: “Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage!”

Since he was seated with the Democrats, Ogilvie was one of the few people on that side of the aisle who was standing. An even funnier moment, however, may have come after Bush finished speaking.

The president turned to shake hands with Vice President Cheney and Hastert and promptly knocked over the veep’s glass of water — drawing smiles from the key players.

Paul Kane contributed to this report.